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Pirates converting a pitching prospect to an everyday player


The Pirates’ 2010 second round draft pick is a guy named Stetson Allie.  He’s a pitcher with 100 m.p.h. gas who has a bit of a control problem. And by “a bit” I mean “a massive, horrible control problem.” So the Pirates are trying something:

The Pirates are converting high-priced prospect Stetson Allie from pitcher to hitter, the Tribune-Review has learned … Neal Huntington, the Pirates’ general manager, said the change was made “recently.” No new position was specified, but Allie played third base in high school.

“Stetson was one of the few athletes in each draft to be considered a prospect as a pitcher and as a hitter,” Huntington said Sunday night from Bradenton, Fla. “We believed his highest upside was as a pitcher. We obviously were very pleased to sign him as a pitcher. Since then, we’ve faced some challenges with him as a pitcher.”

Challenges defined: Last season, in 26 innings, he walked 29 and gave up another 20 hits. He also struck out 28 guys in those 26 innings.  In two-thirds of an inning this season, across two games, Allie walked eight dudes. He has been shut down for over a month as a result, with the Pirates trying to remake his delivery. That’s apparently not working, thus the change.

When I think about prospect conversion projects I can’t help but think of another Pirate: John Van Benschoten, who the Pirates drafted in the first round in 2001.  He was an incredible power hitting prospect, leading all of college baseball in home runs during his final year at Kent State. He was also the team’s closer, and the Pirates figured that they’d make him a pitcher in their system. From what I remember at the time, no other team pictured him as a pitcher and if he had fallen below the eighth overall pick that year, someone would have snagged him as an outfielder.

Van Benschoten made the bigs as a pitcher, but probably wouldn’t have in any other organization. He was a disaster in his time in the majors and his career fizzled out due to torn labrums and other such nastiness. In what seemed like a taunt from some alternate universe, Van Benschoten hit a home run in his second big league game.

These are obviously different circumstances. The Pirates organization of 2012 is not the Pirates organization of 2001.  And, unlike, Van Benschoten, Allie was given a chance to do what folks expected him to do before failing and, eventually, conversion. But even if this is the right move, it solidifies the Pirates in my mind as The Team That Converts Early Round Prospects.  And that’s not something you hear about too often.

The Cubs acquire Rex Brothers from the Rockies

Rex Brothers Rockies

The number of people who, if you held a gun to their head, would say that “Rex Brothers” was a game show host and/or local TV news personality from the late 1970s or early 80s is not insignificant. But if you’re a Rockies fan or if spend all day thinking about baseball you know that he’s a reliever who has played in Colorado for the past five years. Now you know him as a reliever for the Cubs:

Brothers — a former Best Shape of His Life All-Star — was pretty good until he hit a brick wall in 2014 and spent most of 2015 in Triple-A. He had something of a bounceback after being called up when rosters expanded in September, but that’s not the sort of thing to excite anyone. He could be useful for the Cubs or just spring training cannon fodder and organizational depth.

Cabrera just turned 18 a couple of weeks ago and pitched a grand total of 14 games in the Dominican Summer League. He’s young and was a $250,000 signee from the Dominican as a 16-year-old so, by definition, he’s a project. Worth giving up Rex Brothers for him if you’re the Rockies, worth risking for some depth in the pen if you’re the Cubs.

Diamondbacks hire Dave Magadan as hitting coach

Dave Magadan Rangers
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Steve Gilbert of MLB.com reports that the Diamondbacks’ new hitting coach is Dave Magadan, who “parted ways” with the Rangers last month after three years filling the same role in Texas.

Magadan also previously was the Red Sox’s hitting coach and his teams have generally done pretty well, including the Rangers scoring the third-most runs in the league this year.

He’ll have plenty of talent to work with in Arizona, as the Diamondbacks scored the second-most runs in the league led by Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, and David Peralta. Turner Ward, who had been Arizona’s hitting coach, chose to leave the team two weeks ago.

A’s reacquire Jed Lowrie in trade with Astros

Jed Lowrie

Jed Lowrie, who was traded from the Astros to the A’s in 2013 and then re-signed with the Astros as a free agent last offseason, has now been traded back to the A’s.

Lowrie got a three-year, $23 million deal from the Astros with the idea that he’d play shortstop in the first season and then move to another position whenever stud prospect Carlos Correa arrived. Instead he got hurt right away, Correa became an immediate star, and the Astros weren’t so keen on paying him $15 million over the next two seasons.

He could resume playing shortstop for the A’s, who watched rookie Marcus Semien make an absurd number of errors there this year. Lowrie hit .271 with a .738 OPS in two seasons in Oakland, which is similar to his career totals and makes him a solidly above-average offensive shortstop. There’s a decent chance the A’s will have a Lowrie-Lawrie double-play duo in 2016.

In return the Astros get minor leaguer Brendan McCurry, a 24-year-old right-hander who split 2015 between high Single-A and Double-A with a 1.86 ERA and 82/17 K/BB ratio in 63 relief innings. He was a 22nd-round draft pick in 2014 and doesn’t have exceptional raw stuff, but McCurry’s numbers are incredible so far.

White Sox sign catcher Alex Avila to a one-year deal

Detroit Tigers' Alex Avila, right, is congratulated by third base coach Dave Clark after his solo home run in the third inning in the second game of a baseball doubleheader against the Chicago White Sox, Monday, Sept. 21, 2015, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

There have been a lot of articles published in the past few days about how to navigate awkward Thanksgiving conversations with your relatives. Heck, we even wrote one.

But there’s always room for more! Such as “How to talk to your father at Thanksgiving dinner about the fact that he let you walk away from the only team you’ve ever known to sign with a division rival.” Which is what Alex Avila will likely be talking about with his father, Tigers GM Al Avila:

The older Avila can’t even say he did it because he’s opposed to nepotism. After all, he just hired his other son — who has had his law degree for just over a year — as the Tigers assistant legal counsel for baseball operations. Though I’m sure that wasn’t nepotism. He probably just aced the interview and impressed everyone more than the other candidates did.

OK, those are jokes. In all seriousness, this is a good move for Alex and Al and, probably, the White Sox. With the emergence of James McCann, there really is not space for Alex Avila in Detroit in anything other than a backup capacity. In Chicago, he’ll get more playing time. At least if he can (a) stay healthy; and (b) not hit .191/.339/.287 again like he did in 2015.